Demonstrating value of thrown-away electronics with an DIY Electric Vehicle

The Tesla Model S P100D is supposedly the best electric vehicle, offering luxury and capabilities competitive with gasoline cars.  It’s such a good car that Tesla has a large market share in the luxury car segment.  You’d think nobody but Tesla can equal what Tesla has done.  Especially not someone building a vehicle in their back yard.  But then you’d be wrong, as is demonstrated by this video.  The video’s real purpose is demonstrating the value of components in trashed electronic equipment.  Eric Lundgren, the CEO of ITAP, an electronics recycling company, built an electric car conversion from a junked BMW and a bunch of scavenged parts.  With a total cost of about $11,000 he has a street-legal electric car with a range of nearly 400 miles, as shown in this video.

What’s being shown? Lundgren staged a media event, pairing his DIY EV Conversion against a Tesla Model S P100D. The two cars were driven together between Los Angeles and San Diego. Over a very long day (ending at 4AM) the two cars were driven 380+ miles. The Model S ran out of battery capacity at 316 miles, at which point they supercharged it while having dinner, and they kept on driving to see how far the junker EV conversion would go. That car conked out at 380+ miles total, meaning it drove about 70 miles further than did the Tesla Model S.

Lundgren had lived in China for several years and carefully examined the E-Waste recycling business as it exists in China. He came back to the US confident that an equivalent business could be launched in the US.

His company, ITAP, has a YouTube channel with videos showing what they do: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCL72DcFVCMcCqSz7hV_95Ew

The basic idea is that in a broken gizmo, there are almost certainly many parts that are in great condition. By disassembling the gizmo, and testing the parts, you can determine which parts still have value, and those parts can be directed into building new gizmos. The other parts can be melted down for scrap value.

The current practice in the US is that most of this stuff simply ends up in the landfill, with no attempt to recover anything. In the landfill who knows what chemicals leak out causing who knows what environmental harm? And, a potentiality is lost because those parts are still theoretically usable.

That is, “trash” can be reused and converted into other stuff.  That’s what Lundgren did in building this car.   The donor car is a 1997 E39 528i BMW chassis literally pulled out of a junk yard just before it was due to be crushed into a cube to be sent to a shredding-and-melting facility.  He and his helpers rebuilt the car to be street legal, using electric drive train parts.  They used an “AC-51” conversion kit that’s common among the DIY Electric Vehicle crowd wanting an AC drive train.  (AC is more reliable than DC)  The battery pack was built from cast-off battery cells — what one finds inside a “dead” battery pack is that most of the cells are perfectly fine, and the pack is dead because a couple of the cells died.

Over the last year or so I’ve experimented with this myself.  I’ve rebuilt and upgraded several MacBook Pro laptops, as well as an Acer C720 Chromebook.  With the MacBook Pro’s built in 2012 and earlier, it’s possible to completely disassemble the computer and replace any part to get a properly running laptop.  With one of our C720 Chromebooks, a food spill into the keyboard would have caused most people to just toss the thing into the trash.  But I found it was fairly simple to replace the top half of the Chromebook with a new top half that had a good keyboard, and now the computer is running perfectly again, minimizing what gets tossed into the trash.

The computer I’m using to write this – a 2012 MacBook Pro with 16 GB of memory, a Core i7 processor, a 480 GB SSD drive, a 750 GB spinning disk, is quite a potent machine even though it was manufactured 5 years ago.  It cost about $700 last fall, whereas a brand new laptop would have cost $2000.  I hope to keep this machine going for 5+ years.  I’ve posted some advice about rebuilding/repairing MacBook Pro’s on davidherron.com.

I wasn’t able to make a business out of it, but I learned a lot about the innards of electronics gizmos.  Some manufacturers make it easy to disassemble a device and replace parts.  Others make it incredibly hard.  Apple’s iPad’s for example are a maze of parts assembled not with bolts and screws but special high strength glues making it incredibly difficult to replace parts.

Another example is a video of a fellow who’d built his own iPhone from spare parts he bought in markets in Shenzen China.  https://techsparx.com/computer-hardware/apple/iphone/diy-iphone.html

The bottom-line point is that electronics gizmos do not have to be treated as black boxes.  It’s to our mutual detriment if electronics gizmos are treated that way, and just tossed into the trash when they break.  That pattern wastes lots of valuable resources which could be reused.  Greater reuse minimizes the environmental impact of our collective lifestyle.

One of the key issues is the Right To Repair.  The manufacturers seem intent on preventing our ability to repair things they sell us.  Obviously it’s bad for business if we repair a gizmo rather than buy a new one.  But it’s bad for the environment if we just toss things without attempting repairs.

 

 

About David Herron

David Herron is a writer and software engineer living in Silicon Valley. He primarily writes about electric vehicles, clean energy systems, climate change, peak oil and related issues. When not writing he indulges in software projects and is sometimes employed as a software engineer. David has written for sites like PlugInCars and TorqueNews, and worked for companies like Sun Microsystems and Yahoo.

About David Herron

David Herron is a writer and software engineer living in Silicon Valley. He primarily writes about electric vehicles, clean energy systems, climate change, peak oil and related issues. When not writing he indulges in software projects and is sometimes employed as a software engineer. David has written for sites like PlugInCars and TorqueNews, and worked for companies like Sun Microsystems and Yahoo.

3 Comments

  1. David,

    I know you know this, but it needs to be said. The basic equation is that often time equals money. I like fixing things, and so I do. But I also know that if I worked hard, I would make more money working so as to buy a new thing and throw away the old thing than I saved in money spending that much time fixing the old thing. This principle is true for so many people, and so many industries, and so many countries.

    I believe that if everything cost what it really cost — the real cost including environmental damage of mining materials, and the real cost including security of transporting materials, and the real cost including worker health care in manufacturing products, etc. etc. etc., then it would make more real economic sense to recover/reuse/recycle. But as long as all the externalities are foisted off on taxpayers, and on future generations, and on the commons, then often it will be cheaper to make new stuff.

    I would love to see our age of big data be used to truly track the real costs of every little thing so that we could know what things really cost. And then we would only be left with having to deal with human nature’s ability to misconstrue such facts as real costs, which brings us the following joke:
    Sven and Ole went fishing and returned with only one fish. “The vay I figger it, dat fish cost us $400” said Sven. “Vell,” said Ole, “At dat price it’s a good ting ve didn’t catch any more.”

    • When I was about 12 yrs old, my Dad took us fishing — 13 hours of travel to get from home to the shore in either Delaware or Maryland (I forget) plus the time on the boat out into the ocean, and then along the way he got a speeding ticket, all to catch a few — uh, I don’t remember what kind of fish, but they were tasty.

  2. If there is a website or organization that tries to track the true cost of everything, including those fish, that’d be great. Obviously the carbon tax people try — I think, not so comprehensively — but this stuff needs to be looked at from every possible angle. Oh well, when the robots take over (pretty damn soon), we’ll all be unemployed and have plenty of time to strip down electronics.
    BTW: what happened to the idea of just grinding everything up, separating by mechanical/magnetic/chemical properties, and using thermal depolymerization on the remainder?

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